This article is by Gail Johnson.
Elias Konstantopoulos gets spotty glimpses of the world each day for about four hours, or for however long he leaves his Argus II retina prosthesis turned on. The 74-year-old Maryland resident lost his sight from a progressive retinal disease over 30 years ago, but is able to perceive some things when he turns on the bionic vision system.
“I can see if you are in front of me, and if you try to go away,” he says. “Or, if I look at a big tree with the system on I can maybe see some darkness and if it’s bright outside and I move my head to the left or right I can see different shadows that tell me there is something there. There’s no way to tell what it is,” says Konstantopoulos.
A spectacle-mounted camera captures image data for Konstantopoulos; that data is then processed by a mini-computer carried on a strap and sent to a 60-pixel neuron-stimulating chip that was implanted in one of his retinas in 2009.
German company Retina Implant, for example, recently completed human tests with its 1,500-pixel implant that does not depend on a camera but instead directly harvests light and transmits that data to remaining neurons (see “Microchip Restores Vision”). A photodiode array replaces the photoreceptors.
Some people with artificial retinas can read large letters, see slow-moving cars, or identify tableware. Other patients experience no benefit.